Review: The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Macbeth

Classy performances rescue UCLU Drama’s production of a cheap, unimaginative play, writes Patrick Maguire

Drama play review UCLU
Haha! It's funny because it's really long!

Haha! It’s funny because it’s really long!

It’s a cliché, but the title of this one tells you more or less everything that you need to know. UCLU Drama’s latest offering, lamentably one of the last at the Garage Theatre, is a farcical and at points very funny production of Shakespeare’s tragedy. The ladies of the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate ride roughshod, bumbling their way through with the forlorn hope of impressing competition judge Mr. Peach, who’s come all the way up from that London.

That’s the joke. No nuance or subtlety here. No social consciousness, just women from an estate doing Macbeth really badly. It’s not an especially thoughtful or imaginative premise, and it shows. Jokes wear thin, and a considerable number of dead horses are taking a flogging after about 10 minutes.

I’m going to lay my cards on the table at this point. Farndale, as a play, is cheap and nasty. There were times when the laziness of its humour and its depressingly predictable trajectory made Miranda Hart look like Woody Allen. Despite this, and to the immense credit of the cast, last night’s production was, on the whole, decent enough fun for things not to devolve into the sub-Pontins ordeal that the play is such fertile ground for.

Farndale’s saviour is its cast, all of whom turn in good comic performances – they get being relentlessly shit just about right. The play-within-a-play concept, though lazy, is done well, and convincingly. Olivia Dowd was impressive as hopelessly earnest director Mrs Reece – her exasperation, nicey-nicey diplomacy and provincial skittishness made it easy to forget that she wasn’t actually responsible for the mess unfolding on stage.

Similarly, Adam Woolley’s barely competent stage hand Adrian, with his dry physicality, ineptitude and faithful adherence to health and safety regulations, was a welcome and entertaining presence. His most significant role, however, turned out to be pushing Chloe Petts’ Kate about the stage in a wheelchair – Petts is undoubtedly the funniest member of the cast, flitting deftly between cantankerous OAP and Glasgow bouncer in the roles of 3rd Witch and Macduff respectively. So convincing was her angry Scots turn that, I doubt anyone would have batted an eyelid.

Indeed, it was the performances of Petts and others who clearly understood how this play could have been funniest that prevented the play becoming an hour and three quarters of the same middling gags taking an increasingly desperate beating. Howard Horner as producer Plummer was always on the brink of a nervous breakdown, but in his stints in character, his booming tones and wooden Thunderbirds gait made a clever, albeit easy, jab at the bloated and self-satisfied world of am dram. Sarah King, who too did a decent turn as an am dram diva, and Roberto Cortese, who had shades of the Groucho Marx about him, too deserve honourable mentions, but, like most things in this play, their character tropes were quick to lose their humour and bite after the umpteenth callback.

Yeah, making a mess of the lighting, forgetting lines, and inappropriate performances that have the producer swearing from backstage are objectively quite funny (and were done well on the night), but so is watching somebody slip on a wet floor. Farndale is funny, and solid entertainment. Unlike this reviewer, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s good fun. What it isn’t is a great play – the laughs feel almost mechanical, and there is nothing more to things than making a pig’s ear of Macbeth – it’s a singularly unfulfilling performance. UCLU Drama put on a good, superbly-acted production of something that didn’t deserve their time. Three pounds was a fair price and three nights was a more than ample run. If nothing else, it was worth it to see some great comic performances.